Thursday, January 24, 2008

Declaration of War

The Christian Science Monitor describes one town's decision to join the Iraqi government against al Qaeda by forming a Concerned Local Citizens force:

Dulim, Iraq - Masked militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq have been defeated – for the moment – in their battle to control this frontline farming village. For two years, this remote outpost 20 miles northeast of Baghdad, endured an Al Qaeda presence that imposed its will with killings and intimidation, forcing one sheikh out of town a few months ago.

Last week, that same sheikh returned with a US Army Cavalry unit backed by an Iraqi Army battalion. He had persuaded the Americans that his people were "desperate" to create a US-funded militia to take on Al Qaeda in Iraq.

But Sheikh Thamir Hassan Ali miscalculated, underestimating Al Qaeda's fearful grip. The imam at the Dulim mosque refused to cooperate, adamant that setting up a Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) group would be a "declaration of war" against Al Qaeda. Only days before, militants had come, warning villagers that "collaborators" would die.

The story of how this village weighed the risks and eventually chose to side with the Americans – after days of rancorous debate and prodding by US officers, the safety of their families and survival of the village in the balance – shows in microcosm how Al Qaeda is losing ground across Iraq. But it also illustrates the challenges faced by US and Iraqi forces as they sweep across parts of Iraq long under militant sway, making promises of support and armed backup that villagers have heard many times in the past, with little positive result. The current four-province offensive has "caused significant damage" to Al Qaeda and killed 130 militants, the US Army commander for northern Iraq Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling said yesterday.

Three years ago, based on trends I first noted in June 2004, I called the growing Sunni Arab-Shia-Kurd alliance against al Qaeda jihadis as a form of national resistance that would provide a basis for reconciliation by fighting a common enemy:

As sovereignty passes more and more to the Iraqis in concrete terms, it will be easier for the non-Baathist Sunnis to join other Iraqis to kill and expel the foreign invaders--the Islamists--and subdue the Baathists who aid the foreign invaders.

The Baathists screwed up big allying with the Islamists (as I noted in "Center of Gravity" in June 2004). They thought they could use the Islamists to spark a national revolt against American forces but instead the Islamists are giving all Iraqis a foreign enemy to rally against.

This will be our enemy's critical error in this war. Rumsfeld should be grateful he isn't their defense chief.

And Saddam better hope he never has to face his supporters for his role in this error. Apparently, the strategy to import the jihadis that are rallying Iraqis to our side were imported starting a decade ago.

As with many of the trends evident in Iraq, this one took far longer to bear fruit than I thought it would. But the Sunni Arab killerss remained stubbornly resistant to reality as they tried to kill their way back into power. And many Sunni Arabs have concerns that we won't stay long enough to finally break al Qaeda in Iraq completely (thank you, "dissenters.")

Should we worry that Sunni Arabs will flip back? You bet. But that is a problem far better than the problem of Sunni Arabs backing--even if under the pressure of terror--the jihadis in their fight against Iraqis and our forces. And these new allies have submitted to giving biometric data that goes into our database as a guarantee that they won't resume their life of crime.

Get a grip people. This is progress. Some problems (My gold bars are so heavy!) are better than others (I have no gold.).